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A look at Proposal No. 5


By Bob Confer, 10/28/21

Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a four-part series looking at the statewide proposals on November’s ballots.

Sometimes, due to the specificity of the Constitution of the State of New York, local issues come to the fore on November’s statewide ballots. Such is the case next week, when even we here in WNY – a 7-hour drive from the Big Apple – must decide the fate of an amendment that applies only to civil courts in New York City.

Proposal 5, the last of the bunch, asks us: The proposed amendment would increase the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction by allowing it to hear and decide claims for up to $50,000 instead of the current jurisdictional limit of $25,000. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?

We’ve been posed this because the Constitution established the NYC Civil Courts in 1962. Therefore, constitutional amendments must be proposed in order to change the court’s powers.

When formed, said court was allowed to adjudicate claims of $10,000 or less. In 1983, in response to inflation, voters across the state approved the current ceiling of $25,000. It has remained unchanged for 38 years, actually weathering a similar proposal in 1995.

To supporters of this bill, this makes sense in two ways.

First in line is inflation. To have the same buying power as one dollar in 1983, someone today would spend $2.75. All of things in life that could lead to damages or grievances have gone up in cost and the court’s abilities should adjust accordingly.

The second factor could be access to the courts and workload put on inappropriate courts. Now, if someone wanted to file a rather simple civil claim in excess of $25,000 in NYC, he’d have to take it to the Supreme Court. That’s at once a hassle for the plaintiff and the Supreme Court — the latter, especially, shouldn’t be bothered with such things and higher courts are backlogged because of it.

Those against the amendment will say that it empowers lawyers to acquire more money by taking on more cases in volume in the lower court where injured parties are more likely to file. Also, some within the city limits might worry about the burdens (costs and backlogs) it will bring to the civil courts.

Opponents to the bill are few and far between – none could be found in the State Legislature as the proposal unanimously passed both houses in 2020 and 2021, and it’s difficult to find “no” statements from newspaper editorial boards or bloggers.

Despite that, what looks like a shoe-in could fail, just as it did in 1995.

Local proposals often meet their demise on statewide ballots because those not affected by them tend to vote “no” because they either didn’t do their homework or it’s on the principle that they shouldn’t be bothered with other peoples’ troubles.

Please, don’t approach the polls that way, whether it’s with this proposal or the other four. Each amendment will impact someone in some way, whether it’s passed or turned down. It may not be you. But, it will be another human being. They deserve the same consideration for their well-being as you would expect them to provide you. Take the time to consider each of the proposals and vote with your heart and mind.

We’re given incredible power and responsibility in our constitutional republic; don’t throw it all away.

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